22/12/2015 12:45 GMT | Updated 22/12/2016 05:12 GMT

A Resolution Worth Keeping: Helping Africa Survive Its Disasters

We are on the brink of a New Year with all the hope and goodwill resolutions the first of January brings. Many of us have expectations for 2016 and ambitions for what we and our loved ones will achieve. Most of us also know only too well our strengths and weaknesses and how quickly those New Year's resolutions will slip away. But, give or take any unforeseen mishaps, we are able to accept our failures and face the challenges of the next 12 months.

Predicting the future is an inexact science and who knows how we would really react when faced with the thoroughly unexpected? I have been thinking about those families in Cumbria in the UK who won't be in their homes this holiday season. Washed out for the third time in a decade, this time by 30cm of rain in a day, they keep facing a "once-in-a-lifetime" crisis, flooded out and forced to rebuild their lives from the ground up.

I'm not sure I would have the stamina to keep rebuilding my home, even with expensive insurance cover and a small army of professionals engaged in getting me back there ASAP. I am full of admiration when I see those affected on the news. Their resolve, determination and commitment to their community is truly inspiring.

Then I think how much worse disasters like this are for people in developing countries, especially when those disasters occur in remote areas - miles from any infrastructure or from people who can help. Many of the families Send a Cow works with live in small communities, hidden away down long, heavily potholed roads which crack and break up in the dry season and are washed away by heavy rains. It can take days, rather than hours, to get temporary accommodation organised. It can take weeks before there is a regular supply of food.


Of course in both cases - the UK and in Africa - the management of land is all-important. We can't forever be dealing with the consequences of disasters; we need a managed approach to avoiding them, or at the very least mitigating their effects through the careful planting of vegetation and management of water supplies.

Obviously nothing can alleviate nature's disasters - whether they are prompted by climate change or by the earth's natural movement like the shifting of tectonic plates - but we can better prepare people from peril. We can make them more resilient to crisis and more capable of bouncing back.

According to the Overseas Development Institute's Chronic Poverty Report in 2014, 60% of people who escape extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa will become poor again. Shocks and stresses affecting smallholder farmers, who make up 70% of the region's poorest people, are a key factor. And it doesn't even have to be a major event; a simple hailstorm can plunge a family back into severe need when their single crop is destroyed.

What people need in countries with little or no welfare support, is the ability to overcome crisis. They need alternative income streams, a variety of crops and the confidence to see their way through a calamity, rather than be overwhelmed by it.

Send a Cow has been working with some of Africa's poorest people since 1988. It currently has projects in seven African countries from the warm plains of Ngora in Uganda to the mountainous region of Quthing in Lesotho. The majority of the farmers it works with are women and they are often single headed households.

A key part of the way the charity operates is to work at a community level with groups over a number of years. This means the farmers have a support structure to depend on which very quickly starts to operate as a co-operative. They jointly decide which produce to bring to market and jointly save money to invest in new ventures and have in reserve for when crisis strikes.

To understand the impact of our work, the team commissioned external research which we published earlier in the year - Building Resilience. And the headline result? 96% of Send a Cow groups emerge from shocks and bounce back stronger than before. It's an amazing achievement and one we are very proud of.

But it's no surprise when you think back to Cumbria. Pulling together as a community and supporting one another in times of crisis really works. The challenge for all of us in the year ahead, is to keep that 96% front of mind and do everything we can to help more of Africa's poorest families to be resilient in the future.

And if you want to help there is still time. The UK government is matching Send a Cow's Planting Hope campaign £1 for £1 until 31 December 2015 and we would welcome your support.